Originally Posted: October 15, 2018
Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas opens Nov. 9 at National Museum of Natural History
Once the exhibit opens, “Sea Monsters Unearthed: Life in Angola’s Ancient Seas” will allow visitors to visually dive into the cool waters off the coast of West Africa as they existed millions of years ago when the continents of Africa and South America were drifting apart. It’s a unique opportunity to examine fossils of ancient marine reptiles and learn about the forces that continue to mold life both in out of the ocean.
But the back story is just as fascinating: SMU Emeritus Professor of Paleontology Louis Jacobs and his SMU colleague Michael Polcyn forged a partnership with collaborators in Angola, Portugal and the Netherlands to explore and excavate Angola’s rich fossil history, while laying the groundwork for returning the fossils to the West African nation. Back in Dallas Jacobs and Polcyn, director of the University’s Digital Earth Sciences Lab, and research associate Diana Vineyard went to work over a period of 13 years with a small army of SMU students to prepare the fossils excavated by Projecto PaleoAngola.
The result is a dynamic exhibit opening Nov. 9 in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History featuring large vertebrate marine reptiles from the Cretaceous Period — mosasaurs, marine turtles and plesiosaurs. This exhibit will mark the first time Angolan fossils of colossal Cretaceous marine reptiles will be on public display.
“It turns out that Angola is the best place on the surface of the earth to see the rocks that reflect and show the opening of the South Atlantic and the split between South America and Africa,” Jacobs said. But the war of independence in Angola that began in 1961 and ended (after civil war) in 2002 effectively prevented scientists from working this rich fossil zone for nearly 40 years after continental drift and plate tectonics became accepted scientific theory.
When Jacobs and the team arrived to begin digging on the coast of Angola in 2005, they were first on the scene to record this fascinating record of sea life that existed as the South Atlantic Ocean grew between two drifting continents.
SMU students did the important, time-consuming lab work
Over the past 13 years, the fossils were shipped back to Dallas, where over 100 undergraduate students have worked in basement laboratories to painstakingly clean and preserve the fossils. Some were paleontology students, most were not – but they seem to share an appreciation for their unique role in sharing new knowledge. READ MORE